Author: renwinn

‘Wild Wild Country’ Is Truly Wild

Netflix’s new documentary series, Wild Wild Country, explores a wild era in the 1980s when an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh asks his inner circle of followers to create a new community in rural Oregon. What happens next is unprecedented and unpredictable, as the followers of Rajneesh (called Rajneeshees) buy land and start building their perceived utopia next to a retirement town of only dozens of mostly older, socially conservative Oregonians. But perhaps the most surprising part of all for me was that I had never heard any of this before—and I’m guessing I’m not alone. After finishing the six hour-plus episodes, I have some thoughts on both craft and content. Minor spoilers ahead.

Topics of intrigue:

Contradictions galore. I’m fascinated by the contradictory nature of the Rajneesh movement, which was about free love and finding spiritual nirvana, among other things. Yet, Bhagwan and his followers encourage commerce and therefore materialism, are willing to physically harm non-followers and intimidate them with weapons, and even criticize many aspects of the U.S. government while also using and finding loopholes for political gain and to commit marriage fraud (!). And that’s only some of it. Color me shocked.

This guy. A man after my own heart for going through the town’s trash in hopes of discovering cult secrets. I’m all in.

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My personal hero  (Netflix

Outdated media terms. Flabbergasted by the fact that the media seemed to have an official term for people living in poverty in the 80s and that term was “street people.” Seriously. Every time I heard it used I shuddered in embarrassment. That makes it sound, you know, as if the people chose to live on the street.

What defines a cult? Several Rajneeshees ask this question, wondering why the locals and media were so quick to label them as a cult. They bring up a good point of asking why some religions like Catholicism and the Mormon Church aren’t considered cults. Something to leave us thinking about.

Pain points:

The unreadable font. Come on, producers! Yes, Jay and Mark Duplass, I’m talking to you two. Viewers have to be able to read your font! I’m fine with this font choice for the main title card of ‘Wild Wild Country,’ but using this hard-to-read script font for people’s names and names of towns just doesn’t work in the short time you have text on screen. This is especially tricky when so many people are using their Rajneeshee name, and thus names that are unfamiliar to many viewers and harder to guess.

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Wait, who is this?  (Netflix)

Whodunit? There’s a turning point between the locals in Oregon and the Rajneeshees that escalates matters—a bomb goes off in a Portland hotel that the Rajneeshees have bought and operate. The documentary goes on making us think that perhaps a local had set it off (luckily no one was seriously injured), but it doesn’t confirm either way who had done it. From internet confirmation, I now know that it was carried out by an Islamic terrorist group instead. I suppose that wasn’t convenient for the narrative of the Rajneeshees’ point of view in this fight or for the documentary. Oh well.

What’s your name, again? For the uninitiated, all the different names and terms for Bhagwan and his followers are confusing. Is it Bhagwan, Rajneesh, or Osho? People in present day refer to him as Osho from the start of the documentary, but it isn’t until toward the end of his life does he ask his followers to call him Osho. Others have Rajneeshee names in front of their given name, like Ma Anand and Ma Shanti. Still waiting for them to tell us what that means.

Give me more background. I wish the series delved into more of the actual teachings of Bhagwan. It jumps too quickly into the story of what happens in Oregon before having a better grasp of what was really driving the Rajneeshees to be so enamored with him in the first place and then be prepared to plan malicious acts in his name.

All in all, Wild Wild Country is so wild you have to say it twice.

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Take It From Me: You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Appreciate Jesus Christ Superstar

I’ll admit, I’m not a religious person so sometimes just hearing the words “Jesus Christ Superstar” together isn’t necessarily going to grab my attention in a positive way. However, I am a person peripherally aware of a lot of culturally relevant works of art, so hearing those words in that order is something different altogether. Even though I’ve never seen the play or original film, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, I’ve definitely heard the “Superstar” song because it’s one of the greats (or so I’ve been told) among musical numbers, and I was also really into Cats as a child. Therefore, I listened to a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber compilation CDs in the 90s and you can’t forget those goose bump-inducing chords and chants at the beginning of that song. Yet, as a church-going but skeptical child (and an even more skeptical and non-church-going adult), I didn’t fully delve into this musical because I assumed it would be preachy, and even at a young age I was not about being preached to.

Obviously, I was wrong. The rock opera isn’t so much about “religion” or “Jesus” but about a story of people, relationships, points of view, choices, consequences, guilt, and acceptance. You know, a story about life. But even if you’re not interested in the morals of it all, you can still come for the fantastical musical set pieces and softly sung, yet deeply human melodies. My curiosity for turning on NBC’s live rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar really fell into the latter category—and I wasn’t disappointed. Granted, I had it on more for the sake of checking in to see how this live production stacked up against the others (perhaps only Grease and Hairspray beat it for me) and of course the fear of missing out on Chrissy Teigen’s live tweets (what I’m officially deeming FOMOOCTLT…rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?).

From a newcomer’s perspective, the show was energetic, heartfelt, and had Alice Cooper in it. What’s not to like?! All kidding aside, I actually came away from it with much more appreciation for the show, its cast (talking about you, Brandon Victor Dixon!), and the fact that it’s great to see live musicals on television in this age. But the most important moral lesson for me, because I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have some sort of moral takeaway on Easter Sunday, was that I shouldn’t have ever judged this show by its name alone. So, I’m glad that a modern production of a 70s musical starring John Legend wearing an extremely deep-v shirt helped me realize that you have to give everything a real chance before you can judge it. Plus, Chrissy Teigen’s tweets were pretty entertaining, too.

Power in Silence

I cannot remember a time in recent memory when silence was so powerful. And this was silence on live television. When Emma González took the podium at the Washington, D.C. rally for #MarchForOurLives as the last speaker (following so many wonderful young activists), she did more than just tell her story—she made us all FEEL her story, her pain, her anger, her frustration, and her resilience. It showed us too how we can feel so uncomfortable amidst silence, and how that silence, which was to show how long the gun attack at Stoneman Douglas High School took from start to finish, forces us to address the situation head on. It made us feel the repercussions of how this young woman, and countless others, will forever be affected by this experience. After all, how else will there be some way…any way…to make change moving forward? If you missed it, it’s most certainly worth your six minutes and 20 seconds. You can also always donate to the cause, here: https://marchforourlives.com/

The New Queer Eye is Absolutely Fab (And the Perfect Family Affair)

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Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)

The first time I saw a billboard in Los Angeles for the new Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (now more aptly called just Queer Eye), I was skeptical. I was also tired, for this seemed like the 1,456th old show to be brought back to life—I’m worn out on that trend. But then I heard the conversations swirling around in person and online who had watched it and said it was actually really good, and earnest, and groundbreaking in its own way. Fine, I’ll watch!

And yeah, it was pretty great. It’s actually really fabulous and I loved nearly every moment (more on that later). I was in high school when the original series debuted and it was something that my mom, sister, and I loved to watch together. Perhaps that was my hesitation, that I was worried it would somehow mar my experience with the previous Fab Five. Well, I should have had more faith in Netflix because it didn’t.

The new Fab Five are equally fun-spirited as the OGs, but the new show has found five men that reflect an even more global and diverse world, being more inclusive and reflective of how people from all sorts of backgrounds (religion, race, nationality) can also be gay too (gasp!). Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan also bring earnestness to the show that is so welcome in 2018. The men that they makeover are also a diverse bunch, including a gay African-American man struggling to come out to his stepmother, all within the city and suburbs of Atlanta. This aspect is perhaps the most contrived part of the series, as it’s clear the producers tried to find makeover subjects that might have political and social differences from the Fab Five (yes, we see a MAGA hat in the third episode) as a means to create meaningful conversations. But most of the time when you can tell this is the case, it pays off. I say most because there’s one moment that still feels a bit off-kilter, and that is also in the third episode when the guys are pulled over by a cop while the one black castmate, Karamo, is driving. Of course, this immediately puts the Fab Five and viewers on edge due to recent incidents of police violence against black men and women as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Lucky for them, this cop is the best friend of the man (and cop) they’re about to make over, so it’s just a joke and no one gets hurt! Ugh, that was extremely awkward. Now, the episode does lead to Karamo and the makeover subject talking about police brutality from both perspectives, and the two do seem to have a sincere conversation and appreciation for each other’s openness in that moment—so although it felt a little weird and warrants some side-eye toward the producers, this time it ultimately seemed to do more good than harm.

I think the great improvement to this show is the Fab Five’s genuine focus on self-care and building the confidence to be the best version of yourself. It’s not just about cutting off some hair or rearranging the furniture in your living room—these guys are here to help the subjects find something that’s already there, to bring it out and improve their well-being (which oftentimes means improving the well-being of those around them). Whether it’s something as simple as giving a stand-up comedian who lives with his parents a better space at home where he can feel more independent or encouraging a husband and dad of two to take his family out on the town more often, they’re really all about helping some strangers out. However, it’s not always so serious—they find plenty of time to have lots of laughs along the way (hello, Jonathan!). But that’s not to say that you won’t need some tissues handy, because every episode got to me at some point.

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Jonathan! Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)

Once I was one episode in and knew that this was indeed a great show, I knew I had to get in touch with my mom and sister and let them know (none of us live in the same city at the moment). Well, my mom happened to be visiting my sister and they watched an episode together. Then the following weekend I was back in my hometown with my mom, and we watched two episodes together. And THEN, the weekend after that I was with my sister and we watched three more. Somehow, after nearly fifteen years of watching the original together, either coincidence or serendipity (whichever you prefer) brought us together to share this new version. I can’t quite express how lovely that was, except to say thank you to the Fab Five for being a part of it.

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Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)

2nd Annual RANKING of THE Year’s BEST PICTURE OSCAR NOMINEES BASED ON MY TEARS

It’s that time of the year again for…the 2nd Annual Movie that Made Lauren Cry the Most Awards! Where I confess all the times I cried (or didn’t cry!) while watching the year’s Best Picture nominees. Now, last year was a big one for my emotions. Let’s face it, we were just a month into Trump’s presidency, which really meant that most of the Oscar movies were seen between the period of the election and one month post-inauguration (basically the worst and most dreaded time period in recent memory—what a fun time for people’s feelings!). Cut to a year later and I am quite possibly dead inside and basically a socialist now. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’m far more cynical and skeptical than ever before (but don’t worry, it was always there), so finding pleasure in entertainment in the past year was a desperate mission to find joy in something (can I get an Amen! for Star Wars and Thor?!), as well as a year of being super critical of all the BS that’s wrapped into not just Hollywood but all institutions and social constructs (y’all knew about Harvey, admit it!). So, even though I may still get teary-eyed from watching Adam Rippon figure skate or ugly cry while binging the new Queer Eye, something about these movies just didn’t hit the tear mother lode the same way as last year. But alas, I still cried at some and was able to feel *something* along the way to remind myself that I’m still a muppet human being. Here’s my ranking of the cry-iest movies, on a scale from “I feel nothing” (0) to “Holy crap, I’m going to die from dehydration” (10). Please comment below to let me know if Lucas Hedges crying also makes you cry! Oh and quasi-spoilers ahead…

 

  1. Darkest Hour
    Didn’t see it. Don’t want to. There’s another movie that covers the battle of Dunkirk that I’m assuming is far superior and it’s called…wait for it…Dunkirk. -2/10 Cries

 

  1. Phantom Thread
    Also didn’t see it (I promise this is the last one). Maybe I’ll see it some day, and maybe I’ll cry at all the sewing. Who knows! 0/10 Cries

 

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    This movie is TERRIBLE. If it wins for Best Picture I’m definitely going to send out a Mean Tweet and let everyone know how much I dislike it. Overrated, tone-deaf, and like, people just being racist and bigoted and violent because sure why not. Could ALMOST cry over how stupid it is. 0/10 Cries

 

  1. The Post
    This movie was fine. I liked it. Solid work from Spielberg, but not extraordinary. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually thought this was a great performance from Meryl Streep and deserving of the nomination—and that amazing gold caftan was an added bonus! Yet, no tears from me. 0/10 Cries

 

  1. Get Out
    Now is a good time to mention that the highest number of cries does not necessarily mean it’s my favorite film, because I think Get Out should win Best Picture, but it’s not exactly a tearjerker in the typical sense. However, Daniel Kaluuya is superb and that hypnotizing scene is mesmerizing and emotional as you not only learn about the character’s tragic past but also start to experience the concept of the “sunken place” and its layered meanings. Eyes got a little moist. 2/10 Cries.

 

  1. Dunkirk
    Harry Styles in peril? Cillian Murphy being a coward? Tom Hardy flying a plane and barely understanding what he says?? All of these are facts about Dunkirk. Only one of them made me misty-eyed. All said, this is a great WWII film, and you would have to be a monster to not cry a little during a WWII film…unless that movie is called Darkest Hour, and even more so if you haven’t seen the movie Darkest Hour. 3/10 Cries

 

  1. The Shape of Water
    Look, a mute lady falls in love with a fish man. Richard Jenkins is lonely and has cats with funny names. It’s a romance about marginalized people who just want some goddamn love in their lives. So yeah, it made me cry a little. 4/10 Cries

 

  1. Call Me By Your Name
    My lord, I could almost cry from the Italian scenery alone…and from what that peach endured! But all stone fruit loving aside, what a visually gorgeous film. And lovely performances from Timothée Chalamet and Hello, Armie Hammer! Call me! The story is pretty darn good too—an early 1980s love affair and the pain and yearning of not only your first love and lust but a love and lust you have to hide, all while growing into adulthood? That’s basically the equation for making me cry. 6/10 Cries

 

  1. Lady Bird
    Remember when Lucas Hedges was in last year’s Manchester By the Sea and he has this crying scene and then that made me cry a lot? Well, guess what. Lucas Hedges is in THIS movie and he cries in THIS movie too—it’s like he knows I’m watching and is testing me. And apparently I will fail that test every time. The scene with him in this movie is such a beautiful and unexpected moment and I lost it. And when Laurie Metcalf cries while driving around that loop at the Sacramento airport, I also lost it (and this is from someone who has driven that loop many times…it’s quite a loop!). And yes, I am one of those girls who liked (likes if we’re being honest) Dave Matthews’ “Crash Into Me” and, yes, when the girls in the movie cried to it, I cried a little too. It didn’t help that this movie is set in Sacramento in 2002, which is essentially adjacent to my college experience in Davis in 2005 (20 minutes from Sactown for those not familiar with NorCal geography). Cue all the nostalgic feels. 8/10 Cries

 

Honorable Mention: Arrival 
This movie came out in 2016. I’m still crying. Amy Adams got robbed. The end.

The Force is Strong with J.J. Abrams

Today it was announced that J.J. Abrams will return to the directing chair for the final (for now) installment of the Star Wars saga, following the recent parting of ways between Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow (or, as some would say, after he was fired). Frankly, I’m excited. I loved Episode VII: The Force Awakens and I’m a big fan of his work. From Lost and Felicity to Super 8 and, yes, even Regarding Henry, Abrams has a knack for compelling storytelling and strong character development. Heck, he brought an epic franchise back to life after a tumultuous and CGI-ridden trilogy of prequels. He deserves some respect, as he often gets chastised for the fact that for some die-hard Star Wars fans (a categorization that I include myself in) he didn’t deliver a perfect movie. Look, not sure we’ll get anything more perfect than Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, so let’s not be so harsh. Other misgivings included that Force felt like a carbon(ite) (sorry!) copy of Episode IV: A New Hope. Well, to me, he handled the film with such care, affection, and general badassery I could feel it oozing from the screen—and as that die-hard Star Wars fan, I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Making a (Somewhat) Brief Case for The Leftovers

In the summer of 2014, when The Leftovers premiered, there was immediate chatter of how bleak this show was. That’s because the basic premise of the show is that 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears out of thin air, and we watch what happens from there. So yeah, it sounded pretty bleak. But since Damon Lindelof was involved as a co-creator (and writer and producer), I wasn’t deterred by this opinion that was seeping into the pop culture zeitgeist. I was an avid viewer and genuine fan of Lost, after all, which Lindelof was a writer and producer for.

I watched two episodes, and did not dislike it. I got what ‘everyone’ was meaning by the bleakness, but I don’t scare away from something because it’s bleak. Instead, it simply became a victim of “wrong time, wrong place,” as that summer I was just starting a new job and I was already maxed out on a number of shows to keep up with. For the sake of television and this world of Peak TV we live in, I really do wish there were more hours in a day.

That meant I got carried away with other things, and so did a lot of other people. Critics and viewers seemed to like The Leftovers, but not necessarily love it. Then, when the second season was well under way a year later, I heard more and more positive things and pleas from the few people I knew who watched: “Season two is so much better and not nearly as depressing,” they said. Well, cut to two years after that to present day—I finished all three seasons of The Leftovers as of last night. Yes, sometimes (read: most of the time) I prefer to stay in on Saturday nights and watch fictional television shows about the apocalypse—I swear I’m fun at parties (when I go to them).

As someone who loves to be part of the bigger conversation, even if that conversation is reading recaps or listening to podcasts by writers and hosts that I don’t know personally, I was finding it hard to not be a part of the discussion around not just the third season of The Leftovers, but its final season. I might be two months behind the airing of the series finale, but better late than never, right? And anyone reading this who has already watched the series will know what I’m hinting at.

So, here’s my pitch for why this is a show worth watching, and I apologize already for how pretentious this all may sound. The Leftovers, as I’m learning just a day after finishing it, is a show that will sit and stay with you. If it doesn’t, then maybe it’s just not your bag. For me, I have found more insight and new questions about this story in the past 24 hours than maybe any other show in recent memory. More than anything, this story is about what it means to be human (cue the pretentiousness). The show explores themes of loss, grief, belief, non-belief, love, anger, the absurd, and mystery. Season one, which I loved in its own way, could stand alone as its own show. It’s a bit more straightforward in its storytelling and is very contained to one town and its populous. Without revealing any plot points, season two and three go in a different direction that one might not expect, but that’s what keeps you on your toes. The Leftovers managed to cover some heavy subject matters, but it also managed to be so bizarre (in a good way) and even really funny (sometimes in a laugh-out-loud kind of way). I don’t know what’s more representative than ‘the journey of life’ than that.

That’s not much to go off, but more reasons for why you should give this show a chance are its surprising and often gut-wrenching musical choices, and of course its superb performances by a compelling cast of actors. Let’s start with the music. If you like a musical score or pop standard to gut punch you, then this is the show for you, my friend. The masterful score by Max Richter is simultaneously haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful. The main musical theme that’s carried throughout the series is used a lot in the first season, and more sparingly in the following seasons. But when they decide to throw it in there, prepare for the waterworks. The show’s use of pop (and classical and hip hop and religious) music makes for both tender and darkly funny moments.

But what you really want to come here for are the characters and the actors who play them. Everyone is worth watching here, including: the mesmerizing Amy Brenneman, the incomparable Ann Dowd, the always-amazing Regina King, the unexpected yet impressive Justin Theroux, the compelling Scott Glen (a personal favorite of mine), and of course the effortless and unwavering Carrie Coon.

The best thing to do at this point, following three years of almost being completely shut out of Emmy conversation and nominations, is to let HBO know that you’re watching, to let them and the creators and the cast and crew know that this show hasn’t been forgotten—that we remember.